Crisis Over Senkaku: China declares East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone

SenkakuAgence France-Presse reports that on Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013, China announced that it has set up an “East China Sea air defense identification zone” that includes the Japan-held Senkaku Islands, which Chinese call Diaoyutai and over which China also claims ownership.

The Chinese Defense Ministry said the zone was created to “guard against potential air threats,” and dispatched its air force jets, including fighter planes, to patrol the new zone.

The outline of “East China Sea air defense identification zone” is shown on the ministry website and a Chinese state media Twitter account — It covers a wide area of the East China Sea between South Korea and Taiwan, and includes the Senkaku or Diaoyu islets.

East China Sea Air Defense Identification ZoneI added the English translation

Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun said Saturday that the establishment of the zone, which China said entered into force as of 10 a.m. Saturday, was aimed at “safeguarding state sovereignty, territorial land and air security, and maintaining flight order. It is a necessary measure in China’s exercise of self-defense rights. It has no particular target and will not affect the freedom of flight in relevant airspace. China will take timely measures to deal with air threats and unidentified flying objects from the sea, including identification, monitoring, control and disposition, and it hopes all relevant sides positively cooperate and jointly maintain flying safety.”

Along with the new zone, the Chinese ministry released a set of aircraft identification rules that it says must be followed by all aircraft entering the area, under penalty of intervention by China’s military.

Aircraft are now expected to provide their flight path, clearly mark their nationality and maintain two-way radio communication in order to “respond in a timely and accurate manner to identification inquiries” from Chinese authorities.

Shen Jinke, spokesman for the People’s Liberation Army Air Force, reported late Saturday that it had conducted a sweep of the area using early warning aircraft and fighter jets. “The patrol is in line with international common practices, and the normal flight of international flights will not be affected,” Shen said.

Four Chinese Coast Guard boats briefly entered Japan’s territorial waters around the Senkakus on Friday, after multiple incursions at the end of October and the beginning of this month further aggravated tensions between Beijing and Tokyo.

Reaction from Tokyo

In Tokyo, Junichi Ihara, head of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, lodged a protest by phone with Han Zhiqiang, a minister at the Chinese Embassy, according to a statement issued by the ministry. Ihara told Han that Japan can “never accept the zone set up by China,” as it includes the Senkakus. He further said the new zone will “escalate” already fraught bilateral ties over the uninhabited but potentially resource-rich islet chain, branding China’s move “very dangerous.”

Vice Foreign Minister Akitaka Saiki plans to summon Chinese Ambassador to Japan Cheng Yonghua as early as possible Monday to state Tokyo’s position on the matter.

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera in late October said the repeated incursions are a threat to peace and fall in a “gray zone (between) peacetime and an emergency situation.”

A few days earlier, his Chinese counterpart had threatened Japan that any bid to shoot down China’s drones would constitute “an act of war.” That move came after a report said Japan had drafted plans to destroy foreign drones that encroach on its airspace if warnings to leave are ignored.

Sino-Japanese relations have remained icy for more than a year because of the Senkakus dispute, which was revived when Japan purchased three of the five main islets in September 2012, effectively nationalizing the entire chain. Since then, China has regularly sent coast guard vessels to the islets, which lie 400 km west of Okinawa and 200 km northeast of Taiwan.

Reaction from Washington

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said Saturday the United States is “deeply concerned” over China’s move to establish an air defense zone over a string of disputed islands in the East China Sea. “We view this development as a destabilizing attempt to alter the status quo in the region,” Hagel said in a statement. “This unilateral action increases the risk of misunderstanding and miscalculations.”

Hagel said the map will have no effect on how the United States conducts military operations in the area, and that concerns are being conveyed to China “through diplomatic and military channels.” Hagel also said the United States believes that the Senkaku islands are included as part of Japan in the U.S. Japan Mutual Defense Treaty.

In a separate statement, Secretary of State John Kerry urged China to exercise restraint with foreign aircraft that don’t identify themelves inside the air defense zone. “Escalatory action will only increase tensions in the region and create risks of an incident,” Kerry said. “Freedom of overflight and other internationally lawful uses of sea and airspace are essential to prosperity, stability, and security in the Pacific.”

Sources: The Japan Times; Politico

Now we know why Beijing has been making those bellicose saber-rattling threats against the United States. It’s China’s warning to the Obama administration to stay out of the Senkaku territorial dispute. See:

Update (Nov. 25):

Here’s a map showing how China’s newly-declared East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone overlaps with Japan’s (h/t Jim H.). English translations are mine:

Click map to enlarge

ADIZ overlap map

UPDATE (Nov. 26):

U.S. directly challenges China’s air defense zone with B-52 bombers.

17 responses to “Crisis Over Senkaku: China declares East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone

  1. Shit just got real!


  2. This is a *classic* land-grab technique: Redraw the map and act like that’s the way it’s supposed to have been all along. Japan *CANNOT* let this stand.


  3. Now ya gotta love the Chinese declaration to investigate “unidentified flying objects,” as that puts them right up there w/all the Big Boys.


  4. Pingback: Crisis Over Senkaku: China declares East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone | The D.C. ClotheslineThe D.C. Clothesline

  5. More seriously, it would be great entertainment to watch China and Japan duke it out over these pitiful islets. We’ll never see it happen, however, as TPTB will intercede.


  6. In theory, China is playing OUR game. WE established the concept of an ADIZ during the Cold War era, and BOTH Japan and Taiwan have defined ones which include islands recognized as PRC territory by them. In principle, ALL it means is that an aircraft entering the Zone needs to be identified – and if it doesn’t do so with notice or transponders of a sort universally read (as is the case with airliners) then military fighter jets will go up and do a visual identification. This has happened countless times with Japanese and ROCAF aircraft – not to mention ROKAF and USAF and USN aircraft – and it would be a double standard to say PRC isn’t sovereign and has no similar right near its territory. Yet not one article (of hundreds posted on the web) nor one comment here has pointed this out.

    There IS some potential for trouble. A nationalist PLAAF duty officer might elect to misclassify as a threat an aircraft “over Chinese territory” and start an incident. A civilian ultra-nationalist managed to start the Falklands war in this way: once he flew the Argentine flag over his scrap site on South Georgia, the British magistrate (and only resident of the island) formally demanded he take it down. The Galtieri regime felt obliged by the context of its official rhetoric to back him up. And formally PLA uses the Falklands war as a model for its “Strait Crossing Operation” re Taiwan – so the events in that conflict are well understood in China. There are some indications PRC is considering playing the “primary justification” card: the regime feels it is in power now because of “the economic justification” but, if that fails, its fall back position is “reunnification of traditional Chinese territory” – a loose definition which can be expanded as required. This move would provide a mechanism to play that card in a way that would look good in domestic news: the only politics that matters is local politics (a general axiom).


  7. I’m going to try to post a .jpg map that shows the overlap of China’s new East China Sea ADIZ and Japan’s existing ADIZ. The Senkaku Islands are well within the overlapping intersection of the two zones near their southern ends.

    ADIZ Overlap

    If that doesn’t work, and apparently it does not, then here’s the link to it:

    GRRR!!! Here’s the url:


    Auurrrghgh!!! I was going to just paste in the url in the first place, but figured I’d try the image button and the link button in my editor instead. Now I know from now on to just type in the actual url right into the text.


  8. Clearly the real objective is to get as many airlines, agencies, countries, etc. as possible to comply with the requirements of responding to Chinese air controllers. That way they establish some appearance of authority over that airspace and therefore, by extension, some greater degree of legitimacy in their territorial claims over the Senkaku Islands. If they have the balls to do this and actually back it up with action (and I can only assume they have already decided to do so, since to not do so would only make them lose face and actually weaken their claim to the islands), I wouldn’t be surprised to see one or more similar ADIZs declared stretching down across the South China Sea and over the Paracels and the Spratleys as well.


  9. Declaration of an ADIZ is not, in itself a territorial claim, nor does it mean a ban on foreign aircraft entering the area. NORAD routinely intercepts and identifies “Bear” bombers and other recon aircraft entering our ADIZ in the Atlantic, Pacific and Alaska ADIZ’s. An anecdote:

    A novice Soviet pilot flying near Alaska reported to his ground control:

    Pilot: “There is an American fighter approaching my plane. What do I do?”
    Control: “Continue your mission. Take no offensive action.”
    Pilot: “He is flying alongside me now.”
    Control: “Continue the mission;’
    Pilot: “Now he is taking pictures of me. What should I do?”
    Control. “Smile.”

    In the larger issue, however, we have never dealt with the situation of an ADIZ which includes disputed territory. What the Japanese SDF needs to do is establish a ground presence on one or more of the Senkaku Islands. To begin with, it should consist of a radar station and a garrison of a battalion of troops (500-800) with air defense and anti-ship missiles. As time permits, an airfield should be constructed as well. This would constitute “facts on the ground.”

    This should be in conjunction with an agreement with the ROC on Taiwan which also claims the Senkakus. The ROC would prefer that they own the islands but would also prefer Japanese occupation as opposed to PRC occupation.

    Once the airfield is built, a small detachment of USAF or USN ground personnel (25-50) should also be stationed on it. The radar station could also be a joint US/Japan facility. The airfield should be capable of handling F-15/16 type aircraft and maintained as an auxiliary/emergency airfield with no planes permanently based there, but a few planes flying in and out every week or so. it could also be used for emergency landings of military and commercial aircraft (including ROC and PRC civilian aircraft).

    An uninhabited, undefended island outside the 12 mile limit of the claiming parties, has no real status in international law. Possession is what matters and the first nation to establish a settlement on the islands will have the “facts on the ground” in its favor. The Japanese government needs to establish a permanent presence on the ground in the Senkakus before China does. And the Obama administration needs to be absolutely clear that it will resist, by military force, any attempt to install a PRC presence there. Regular patrols by armed warships of the USN and MSDF should be begun immediately.


  10. A. James Gregor, Ph.D. & Professor

    J. H. makes a valid point. The practice of aircraft identification has been long in practice. Beijing has as much right to employ it as we, or the Japanese, or Taiwanese. It is equally true that the involvement of the PRC in the complex game creates one more opportunity for provocative error in which potential enemies, operating in a conflicted environment, might easily cause an exchange that could lignite an armed engagement.


  11. US Bombers Challenge China’s Air Defense Identification Zone

    Defying orders from Beijing, a pair of B-52 bombers fly over the Senkaku Islands without informing China on Monday.

    By Zachary Keck

    November 27, 2013

    U.S. bombers challenged China’s recently established Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea, according to the Wall Street Journal.

    In a report citing U.S. defense officials, the WSJ said that American B-52 bombers flew over the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands on Monday without informing Beijing ahead of time. The report said that the bombers took off from Anderson Air Force Base in Guam and entered into China’s new ADIZ around 7 PM local time on Monday. They were not armed or accompanied by any escort planes.

    America maintained that the B-52s flight was part of a long-planned exercise called Coral Lightning.

    Still, the flight represented a clear challenge to China, which announced it was establishing an East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) on Saturday morning. It later said that Chinese planes had begun patrolling the area.

    As expected, the move to establish an ADIZ drew sharp rebukes from both Japan and the United States, with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel saying that the United States views “this development as a destabilizing attempt to alter the status quo in the region.” Hagel added that “This unilateral action increases the risk of misunderstanding and miscalculations.”

    In the official Pentagon press release, Hagel went on to say that “This announcement by the People’s Republic of China will not in any way change how the United States conducts military operations in the region.” Japan also said that it would not comply with the rules that Beijing announced it would be enforcing in the airspace covered by the ADIZ, which includes the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands and overlaps with Japan’s own ADIZ. Tokyo also scrambled fighter jets in response to China’s patrols over the airspace.

    China quickly responded to both Japan and the Pentagon’s comments. Toward the latter, Beijing called on the Pentagon to uphold Washington’s promise that it would not take sides on sovereignty disputes, and asked it to “stop making irresponsible comments.”

    There has been some dispute among defense experts about whether China has the capability to actually enforce its conditions. Defense News quoted an unnamed U.S. defense industry source located in Asia as saying, “Let China run itself crazy trying to enforce this. I just can’t see how China will sustain the enforcement. Too much traffic goes through there. If no country recognizes it, [and] don’t respond to China’s IFF [identification friend or foe] interrogation or VID [visual identification], then this new ADIZ is meaningless.”

    Notably, China’s announcement also won it the ire of South Korea, one of the few states in the region that Beijing had thus far avoided offending over sovereignty issues in the past few years. According to the Wall Street Journal, China’s new ADIZ overlaps with about 3,000 square kilometers of South Korea’s own ADIZ. It also encloses Ieodo (Suyan) Rock that South Korea administers but China also claims. Seoul and Beijing will discuss the issue an already scheduled vice defense ministerial-level strategic dialogue in the South Korean capital this week.


  12. Pingback: U.S. directly challenges China’s air defense zone with B-52 bombers | The D.C. ClotheslineThe D.C. Clothesline

  13. Clearly, China’s actions set forth above is yet another communication that it has no respect for the Obama administration and recognizes its weakness and stupidity.


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